Ein Soldat steht mit einem Flyer in der Hand auf einem Gelände mit mehreren Bundeswehrfahrzeugen und schaut sich um.
Bundeswehr/Christian Vierfuß

History of the Bundeswehr

The history of the Bundeswehr has been marked by change. It stretches from the armed forces in the Cold War era through German reunification to an army on operations. Since the Bundeswehr came into being, thousands of women and millions of men have made their contribution to the preservation of peace. Here is an overview of six decades.

Origins: the Bundeswehr’s history begins

The history of the Bundeswehr began in 1955. The Cold War is seen as having helped give rise to the Bundeswehr. For more information, see Establishment of the Bundeswehr.

  • 12 Nov 1955 The Bundeswehr is founded

  • 5 May 1955 The Federal Republic of Germany joins NATO

  • 1955 – 1956 Theodor Blank as first Federal Minister of Defence

Soldaten in ihrer Stube (Schwarz-Weiß-Aufnahme)

The Establishment of the Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr was founded just ten years after the end of the Second World War. However, a new confrontation had already begun.

The Bundeswehr in the Cold War

The confrontation that helped the Bundeswehr come into being also gave rise to a considerable increase in personnel and a clear mission: national and collective defence. For more information, see our page on The Bundeswehr in the Cold War.

  • End of 1956 only 7,700 servicemen

  • 1957 Introduction of compulsory military service

  • End of 1960s Personnel strength of some 500,000 troops

Black and white shot of tanks and helicopters in the field

The Bundeswehr’s origins in the Cold War

Within a few decades, the young Bundeswehr evolved into one of the strongest NATO forces during the Cold War

German reunification

German reunification posed three challenges in the history of the Bundeswehr: the project of downsizing the Bundeswehr, disbanding the National People’s Army (NVA) of the former East Germany, and building up a new kind of armed forces, an army of unity.

  • 3 Oct 1990 German reunification

  • About 76,000 members of NVA transferred

  • 12,000 of them were former NVA officers

Black-and-white shot of the soldiers who stood up

The Bundeswehr becomes an “army of unity”

Facing the most demanding challenge in its history, the Bundeswehr has proven itself as an army of unity.

On operations worldwide

Today, the German armed forces are on operations worldwide. But this was not the case for much of the Bundeswehr’s history: until German reunification, the mission of the armed forces was limited to national and collective defence. However, the end of the Cold War brought about new challenges for the Bundeswehr. It had to prove itself as an army on operations.

  • Since 1959 Operations conducted in more than 50 countries

  • 1992 - 1993 First out-of-area mission

  • 12 Jul 1994 Decision: out-of-area missions are constitutional

Bundeswehr soldiers with weapons and blue UN caps on patrol in a desert landscape

Army on operations

Threats do not respect national borders. This is why Bundeswehr soldiers are now deployed worldwide.

Changes in the Bundeswehr

In order to meet the challenges of the time and fulfil the corresponding mission, armed forces have to change over the course of their history. The Bundeswehr has been subject to numerous reforms, from the guiding principle of the “citizen in uniform” to the suspension of compulsory military service.

  • 1974 Degree programme for officers

  • 1999 - 2000 Weizsäcker Commission

  • 2016 Publication of the White Paper

De Maizière and Soldat look at the map

Reforms of the Bundeswehr

Armed forces must continue to change in order to meet new challenges. To this end, the Bundeswehr has been reformed many times.

Air Force

The German Air Force has been shaped by a history of more than six decades. During this time, the Bundeswehr and its air forces have had to face a number of challenges – ranging from aid flights, combat operations and the Starfighter crisis to counterterrorism measures.

  • 24 Sep 1956 Official founding date of the Air Force

  • 1960 The Air Force’s first relief operation

  • 1997 Green light for procurement of Eurofighter

Drei Propellermaschinen unterschiedlicher Typen in Formation

The History of the German Air Force

More than six decades of eventful history have left their mark on the German Air Force.

Medical Service

Over the course of the Bundeswehr’s history, the Medical Service has evolved into what is probably one of the most important elements of a modern army on operations.

  • 1969 Career path for Medical Service officer candidates

  • 1975 Recruitment of female Medical Service officers

  • 2015 Creation of Medical Service’s mission statement

Schwarzweiß-Aufnahme: Zwei Soldaten laufen mit einem Verletzten auf einer Trage zum Sanitätspanzer Hotchkiss.

The History of the Medical Service

Since its foundation in April 1956, the history of the Medical Service has been marked by various changes and reforms.

Army

The German Army can look back on an exciting history. Since the 1950s, the Bundeswehr and its army have continually adapted to the changing security policy of the time.

  • June 1955 Appointment of first Federal Minister of Defence

  • November 1955 101 volunteers receive letters of appointment

  • October 1956 Compulsory Military Service Act is passed

Fünf Kampfpanzer fahren nebeneinander über ein Feld.

The History of the German Army

Marked by change: the German Army’s history from 1950 to the present day

Navy

The history of the German Navy is a long one: the historical roots of the unified German maritime forces reach back to 1848. Even then, their vessels were flying the colours black, red and gold. The navy of the Bundeswehr was founded during the Cold War. After German reunification, it became the German Navy. It is deployed on operations worldwide.

  • In 1956 65 ships and vessels

  • In the 1980s 35,000 servicemen

  • In 2014 16,000 servicemen and servicewomen

Zwei Marinesoldaten in Matrosenanzug, einer trägt einen kleinen Hund auf dem Arm

The History of the German Navy

The German Navy of today was founded during the Cold War

Joint Support and Enabling Service

The history of the Joint Support and Enabling Service dates back to the year 2000, when this major organisational element was created in Cologne as a joint organisation of the Army, Air Force and Navy.

  • Supporting the armed forces

  • 2000 Created

  • 2011 Restructured

Schützenpanzer Marder auf einem Güterwagon.

The History of the Joint Support and Enabling Service (JSES)

The Joint Support and Enabling Service is the Bundeswehr’s second-largest major military organisational element.